Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model

Taking an Intelligent, Long-Term Approach to Leadership

Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model - Taking an Intelligent, Long-Term Approach to Leadersh

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Learn the effects of positive leadership and self-awareness.

Leadership is about setting direction and helping people do the right things. However, it can involve so much more than this!

In particular, leadership is a long-term process in which – in a very real, practical way – all actions have consequences, and "what goes around comes around."

Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model helps you think about this, and understand why it's important to adopt a positive, long-term approach to leadership.

We'll look at the model in this article, and we'll explore why it's so important to understand it. We'll also see how you can apply the model's lessons to your own situation.

What Is the Leadership Process Model?

The Leadership Process Model was developed by Randall B. Dunham and Jon Pierce, and was published in their 1989 book "Managing." You can see our interpretation of the model in figure 1, below. (We've redrawn this for clarity.)

Figure 1 – The Leadership Process

The Leadership Process Diagram


Model reproduced with permission from “Leaders and the Leadership Process” by Jon Pierce and John Newstorm.  © 2010 McGraw-Hill Education.

The model shows the relationship between four key factors that contribute to leadership success or failure. These are:

  1. The Leader: This is the person who takes charge, and directs the group's performance.
  2. Followers: These are the people who follow the leader's directions on tasks and projects.
  3. The Context: This is the situation in which the work is performed. For instance, it may be a regular workday, an emergency project, or a challenging, long-term assignment. Context can also cover the physical environment, resources available, and events in the wider organization.
  4. Outcomes: These are the results of the process. Outcomes could be reaching a particular goal, developing a high-quality product, or resolving a customer service issue. They can also include things like improved trust and respect between the leader and followers, or higher team morale.

The model shows the way in which the leader, the followers, and the context combine to affect the outcomes. It also shows how outcomes feed back to affect the leader, the followers, and the context.

Most importantly, the model highlights that leadership is a dynamic and ongoing process. Therefore, it's important to be flexible depending on the context and outcomes, and to invest continually in your relationship with your followers.

Accordingly, the model can also help you understand:

  • How your actions as a leader influence your followers, depending on the context and the outcome.
  • How your followers influence you.
  • How the context and outcomes influence you and your followers.

Essentially, everything affects everything else. In a very real way, negative actions feed back to negatively affect future performance, and positive actions improve future performance.


Dunham and Pierce used a different format for the diagram illustrating this model. You can see their version in Chapter 9 of the book "Leaders and the Leadership Process," which was co-authored by Jon Pierce.

How to Apply the Model

Pierce and John W. Newstrom highlighted several ways that you can apply the insights from this framework to your own development as a leader, and to the development of your people...

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